Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?

Subject: Re: Baseline Skillset for Technical Writers?
From: "Ed Gregory" <edgregory -at- home -dot- com>
To: "Rock, Megan" <Megan -dot- Rock -at- fanucrobotics -dot- com>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 12:25:38 -0600

Megan Rock said:
>
> I must humbly admit that I am the type of woman who would rather take the
> danged thing apart, figure out what the pieces are, see if I can fix it,
and
> then, if I can't, throw it away and buy a new one. I'll do the same thing
> with just about any appliance that conks out on me. But maybe that...

Let me know where you throw these "broken" things.

Your story reminded me of my brother's purchase of a "dead" Honda
motorbike for $50 many years ago, and also of an important principle in
technical communications.
It seems that a man we knew accepted this little Honda in partial
payment for some work he had done. He filled the fuel tank and headed down
his driveway. Alas, his previous experience was with an old Cushman
motorbike. For those of you who don't know, the Cushman had a two-cycle
engine which runs on a mixture of gasoline and oil. The Honda's four-cycle
engine didn't do well with this cocktail.
The result: the little Honda "died" in a cloud of blue smoke.
Now, considering himself somewhat of a mechanic, the guy tried
everything he knew to try--everything EXCEPT running straight gasoline
without the added oil. This was the one thing he KNEW FOR CERTAIN about
motorbikes.
My brother watched in amusement, then offered to take this "dead" Honda
off the guy's hands. By this point, the guy was exasperated and more than
happy to hand the project off to someone else.
My brother took the bike home in the back of a friend's truck. He
cleaned the motorbike's spark plug, fuel lines, and tank. With fresh, clean
gasoline in its tank, this $50 Honda provided my brother with years of happy
motorbiking. The funny thing is that, had he been asked for advice, my
brother just might have told the man what was wrong.

The techwhirler points are:
* You don't always know what you need to know.
* Being willing to ask "one more question" will eventually provide the
answer you need.
* You don't always know what you think you know.
* It's okay and often vital for someone else to be more "right" about a
thing than you are.

As any good shade-tree mechanic knows, it can take time to learn what
questions to ask and when to ask them.
It has been argued that most men will not ask for directions while
travelling, but I don't know of many who won't eventually ask for technical
directions from the next guy up the technological ladder. (Okay, so
sometimes we don't ask until after we've taken the thing apart 16 times and
re-assembled it with parts to spare. And, sometimes, there's a period of
posturing and exploration to figure out who is where in the technological
pecking order. The point is that we do, eventually, ask.)
So, to everybody's list of baseline skills for technical writers, I'd
add a dogged determination to understand how a thing works.

PS-As if this writing, my brother has more rescued mechanical things in
his garage than I have in mine, including a flock of motorcycles that we
take turns riding. He's an inspiration in that regard. I keep hoping I will
one day find a wounded Honda (maybe an Accord or Prelude) that I can rescue
for fifty bucks.

In the meantime, Megan, I might be interested in whatever you've
abandoned behind door number two. ;-}













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